Sunday, January 31, 2016

What Is Meant By "Works"?

Jesus + nothing = everything.

This is true. This is biblical.

Faith + nothing = everything.

This is false. This is a lie that comes from the devil, and straight from the pit of hell!

For some unknown reason, many Christians feel the need to lump all works together in the same category, then falsely convince themselves that all works are, or lead to, works-righteousness. This is the same foolishness wherewith many Christians lump commands for holiness together with legalism. It all stems from ignorance. Christians desperately need to learn the difference between works of the Law, guided by self-righteousness and the idea that such will make them right with God, and works of faith. We could also define it as a difference between works of the flesh and works of the Spirit. Remember, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we were "created in Christ Jesus for [the purpose of] good works" (Eph. 2:10).

James asks, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14). Many Christians would answer, "Yes," and then spout the unbiblical nonsense of "by faith alone." Thrice James answers, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:17), "faith without works is useless" (James 2:20c), and "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26b). How many times does he have to say it? The question Christians need to be asking, instead of riding their high horse of arrogant assumption, is: What kind of works is James talking about here?

Some Christians will quote Romans 3:28-30 and underscore the words "man is justified by faith apart from works." They then ignorantly and arrogantly assume they have made their case. But that is not what the passage says! It says, "man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law"! Were Abraham's works "works of the Law"? The Law did not come into effect until about 300 years later! Abraham's works were works of faith—not works of the Law with which he believed would make him right with God. Were Rahab's works "works of the Law"? She was a Gentile woman! The Law meant nothing to her. Many Christians need to stop painting the aspect of works with a wide brush.
NOTE: Every verse the "by faith alone" proponent brings to the table is speaking with regard to "the Law," most of them mentioning "the Law" right there in the verse or passage.
Christian! Swallow your pride, strip yourself of your arrogant assumptions, and pay attention to what the Bible says!

Twice James tells us that Abraham was justified by his works. He also tells us that Rahab was justified by her works. You cannot ignore or escape this fact, nor can you sweep it under the rug. Is the Bible wrong for saying they were justified by their works? Did either of them believe that they would be made right with God by doing what they did? Or do we have a flawed understanding of what the Bible means here by "works"? You cannot pit verses that say "justified by faith" against these and then smugly assume these verses are canceled out and that somehow you have made your case. Especially when the verses you are attempting to quote are dealing with a contrast between faith and works of the Law. Not all works are works of the Law.

The works that Paul is contrasting with faith are the works of the Law—not works of faith (faith in action)! Observe: "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:28); "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4); "a man is not justified by the works of the Law" (Galatians 2:16); "if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Galatians 2:21); "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:5); "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24); "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works [of the Law], that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9); "not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9).

Faith never acts alone! The Bible is both clear that (1) works alone will not save you, and (2) faith alone will not save you. James made it abundantly clear that Abraham's "faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected" (James 2:22). If you want to wax theological, you can even go so far as to say his faith drove his works, but nevertheless the two were working in tandem—that is, together. His works perfected his faith. "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26b). Do not ever forget that!

An example:
I am hanging mid-air from whatever (cliff, roof, tree), about to fall and hurt myself severely. You are standing below and you tell me, "Let go and I will catch you." I can earnestly and wholeheartedly believe that you will catch me with every fiber of my being, but if I do not let go, all that belief counts for nothing. It is dead faith. By letting go, my works (letting go) perfect my faith (believing that you will indeed catch me). What we truly believe is always verified by what we do, regardless of what our mouths speak.
Look carefully at the above example and note these facts:
  1. Faith alone will not save. If I believe that you will indeed catch me, but I do not let go, that faith counts for nothing. It is dead faith.
  2. Faith has to be coupled with works. The moment I let go, my letting go demonstrates and perfects my faith. It is living faith. Faith in action.
  3. Deeper theologically, you could say that my faith in you catching me drove my works of letting go, which resulted in the perfecting of my faith. So while faith drove the works, nevertheless faith and works worked together.
Throughout the entire Bible, whenever you see instances of faith, it is inseparably linked with faith in action (i.e., works/living faith), as demonstrated by James with regard to Abraham and Rahab. To deny this is to be living in sheer ignorance. If we know from Scripture that there are two kinds of faith, and two kinds of repentance, why would we foolishly assume there is only one kind of works? Is Ephesians 2:10 saying we were created for works of the Law or legalism? Clearly not! So why do we assume that all talk regarding "works" is in regard to works-righteousness and us being right with God based on those merits?

Since every instance of faith in the Bible is inseparably accompanied by faith in action (i.e., works/living faith), it is foolish to assume that when Scripture speaks of "faith" that it merely refers to mental assent. Faith is not merely what we believe in our head and our heart, but also how we act in accordance with that belief. Genuine acceptance of the Gospel is inseparably accompanied by immediate genuine repentance and followed by continuous genuine repentance as one grows in that faith. Faith is never faith alone apart from actions! Ergo, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:17). When the Bible speaks of Abraham's "faith," it includes not only what he believed in his heart, but also how he acted upon that belief. This is how Paul can say he was justified by faith and how James can say he was justified by his works. The two are not contradictory. The belief in his heart alone was not enough, as James points out. He had to act upon it, the same way we do. The moment he acted, his actions perfected his belief. Belief and actions together constitute "faith." You do not believe me?

Closely examine the woman with the issue of blood (or any other instance of faith in Scripture). She believed in her heart that touching Jesus' garment would heal her (faith) and she reached out in that belief and touched His garment (works/living faith/faith in action). Jesus' words to her? "Your faith has healed you." "Faith," here, encompasses both her belief in her heart that she would be healed and her faith in action by touching the garment. How about Peter walking on water? Faith (believing it was possible) plus works of faith (stepping out on the water). How about the crippled man by the pool? Some stranger comes up to him and tells him to walk. How cruel! Faith (believing it) plus works of faith (standing up). How many passages in Scripture would you care to examine and see this pattern? I can do this all day if you would like. You see this everywhere in Scripture!

Justification is never by faith alone. Abraham did not simply believe God, he acted upon that belief. His action perfected his belief. His action made his belief real. This is how Paul can say he was justified by faith and how James can say he was justified by his works. Faith and works (faith in action) always go hand-in-hand. They are inseparable! It is that simple. It does not matter what aspect of faith you are looking at, it is all the same. Genuine faith of any kind requires some sort of action to go along with it. If you have faith that God is calling you to missions somewhere, you actually have to step out in that faith and go. Otherwise, you can believe it all you want and nothing is ever going to happen. If you have faith that I will catch you if you fall, you need to actually let go so that you can fall and I can catch you. Otherwise, by not letting go you are holding on to a form of self-righteousness. If you have faith in the Gospel of Christ Jesus and Him crucified, there will be repentance present.

The Christian's life is to be one of living faith—faith in action, living out what we say we believe. What we believe will always be seen in and by our actions. Our words may profess one belief while our actions reveal our true belief. What we truly believe is always verified by what we do, regardless of what our mouths speak.
Example #1: Your mouth speaks that you believe that God is in control of all things, yet you constantly worry about everything. You say you believe that God is in control over all things, but your actions prove that is not what you believe.

Example #2: Your mouth speaks that you believe God sees everything you do, hears everything you say, and knows everything you think. Yet, your actions prove that is not what you truly believe. If it were, you would be conscious of the way you act (in public or in private), the way you speak, and what you let your thoughts dwell on.
If our works stem from a desire to be right with God, or a belief that they will make us right with God, then we are guilty of self-righteousness and works-righteousness. If our works stem from faith, then they are examples of living faith and they are the works we were created for. When I speak of "works," I do not speak of the heresy of works that save us or keep us saved, which are the "works of the Law" that Paul was condemning: "If I do this, or if I do this enough, I'll be good with God." I speak of the works of living faith, faith in action. It is these works that are always present with faith, it is these works that perfect faith, and it is these works that we were created for. Not the works of the Law!

I hope this blog entry has set several people straight and opened their eyes to the truth of Scripture, providing they are humble enough to get off their high horse of arrogant assumptions based on religious tradition. As I said before, so say I again:
It does not matter what traditions we hold to, it does not matter what system of theology we follow, it does not matter what denomination we belong to, we must compare all teachings with the Scriptures and hold the Scriptures as the only authority. I agree with most of Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas, but where they do not agree with Scripture, we need to reject tradition and conform our beliefs to the Word of God. Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas are not infallible. Any true student of the Word, a Berean at heart, understands this and will subject these, and all systems of theology, to the scrutiny of the Word of God. How we were raised, what we were taught, and what we believe must conform to Scripture. Otherwise we are blind, ignorant, disobedient, rebellious fools.
Remember, the works James is speaking of are not works that a person can say, "If I do this, I'll be good with God." The works James is speaking of are those that naturally accompany genuine faith. They must accompany faith for that faith to be real and so that faith can be perfected. Otherwise, that faith is empty, meaningless, and dead. It is as simple as that.